A mass extinction event paved the way for dinosaurs to take over Earth, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Communications. While there is plenty of research on the way dinosaurs died out, there is very little information on how they first came to be. In the new study, a group of scientists from the University of Bristol set out to shed light on that mystery by looking at the earliest dinosaur fossils on record.
The oldest remains date back roughly 245 million years ago to the start of the Triassic Period. However, though some species existed, the ancient reptiles were still relatively rare until 13 million years after that time. The reason, the team suggests, is that a mass extinction some 232 million years ago enabled them to rise up.
They came to that conclusion by analyzing ancient rock deposits in Northern Italy. Such study revealed that dinosaurs suddenly rose up and overwhelmed the landscape after the earliest age of the Late Triassic epoch. This is shown by ancient footprints found in several places around the world.
“We were excited to see that the footprints and skeletons told the same story,” said lead author Massimo Bernardi, a researcher at the University of Bristol, in a statement. “We had been studying the footprints in the Dolomites for some time, and it’s amazing how clear cut the change from ‘no dinosaurs’ to ‘all dinosaurs’ was.”
The dinosaurs appeared to come about at the end of the Carnian Pluvial Episode, when a series of huge climate shifts triggered by volcanic eruptions killed off many different species and significantly lowered competition.
This information is important because it gives scientists a glimpse into the past and could better show how modern species made it to today.
“The discovery of the existence of a link between the first diversification of dinosaurs and a global mass extinction is important,” said study co-author Mike Benton, a professor at Bristol University, according to UPI. “The extinction didn’t just clear the way for the age of the dinosaurs, but also for the origins of many modern groups, including lizards, crocodiles, turtles, and mammals — key land animals today.”